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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

One Week to Select an LMS – No Way

There has been fantastic comments around Learning Management System Easy of Use.  This post was based on an inquiry that I received from someone who manages their current LMS implementation that is based on Moodle with some customization.  They do customer training around products that the company sells.  They are doing a combination of virtual classroom training (via WebEx) and self-paced eLearning.  And the person who asked the question tells me:

My managers have asked me to find alternatives to Moodle that are more user friendly and that are easier to update and manage.

Well two days later I’m told:

You will get a kick out of this though.  My supervisors told me to research LMS possibilities and narrow it down it down to about 3-5 and report back in a week and present the pros and cons of the top ones I found.  And it’s not like I have all day each day to work this either, I have little pockets of time between now and then as normally I am on the phone all day training customers.  Sure, 15 hours of Internet research will be enough for me to narrow down all the many possibilities to 3-5 (sarcasm).

Now, I hate to say that this is all too common a situation.  Of course, this strikes me as completely unreasonable, especially given the complexity of what’s involve in LMS Selection

Research that I cited in LMS Selection Time suggested that the time for the steps on average was:

  1. Gather and Specify Requirements – 5 months
  2. Research Vendors Requirements – 4 months
  3. Meet with Vendors – 2 months

With several people involved.  Of course, these were enterprise implementations with many different business units and training organizations involved. 

But I still believe that trying to do an LMS selection in a week (actually in 15 hours) is bound to run you into some of the Learning Management Systems (LMS) Gotchas that I’ve talked about before.

The real question here is probably more about how you work with your management to get them to understand the challenge, how you might approach it, the risks of not doing a more thorough evaluation.

Still are there good ways that you can short-circuit the LMS Selection Process to reduce the length of time?  

Also, obviously, you can’t come back and say 11 months, when they were thinking 1 week.  And I’m not suggesting it’s actually 11 months, but it’s still more than one week.  So, how do you effectively negotiate to a level of depth that will make sense in this kind of situation?


Harold Jarche said...

Yes, it can be done in a week or even less, knowing the right questions, the right people to talk to and having a lot of experience yourself. The major issue is that the organization probably doesn't have its own act together. This becomes obvious after you purchase and install the system. At that time, the LMS requires specific input on the org's processes, which in many cases don't even exist. Mapping the LMS to the org, and vice versa becomes the time-consuming and frustrating issue. Even if you take months in the selection process, you will have these issues (I've seen it many times). But it's almost impossible to say to the org hierarchy: first you have to get your own house in order and then you can purchase this system that will help with SOME of your needs.

Tony Karrer said...

Harold - I'm not sure I agree that you can really do it in a week or less with good knowledge of the org and what it needs - love to hear more on that.

That said - completely agree that it's really hard to get the org to a point where it knows what it needs. And it's hard to get them to understand what they don't know.

However, there's often a few key places you can use to point to pain spots to get them to at least listen a bit, right?

I'm assuming you do push back a bit on it?

Unknown said...

I would be up for the challenge ;-) But this rush can only run into disappointment later. If you need a customized environment on one hand, and a standardized (quick) implementation on the other hand, either you or the supplier will not be happy (it will cost on of you significantly more). It all depends on your requirements and since most of the time lots and lots of people will use the system you should take the time to investigate some of their expectations.

Emily said...

This is a really interesting topic to me. I’ve recently headed up our company’s LMS selection process and implementation, and let me tell you… it took A LOT longer than one week!

First, I think the supervisor should set some purchasing guidelines. For example, what is the budget? What is the expectation for implementation time (e.g., 1 week, 1 month)? Will there be a dedicated resource for managing the LMS? Those answers will give you some basic guidelines that will guide the search.

Then, like Tony said, figure out the current pain points and make those your main criteria for selection. Targeting pain points will make people listen, keep them interested, and motivate them to use the system once it’s implemented.

Next, schedule 30 minute demos with vendors. Encourage them to show you why their system is unique and how it solves the pain points your company is experiencing. Essentially, you’re asking them to walk through your use cases and demo the system in one meeting. This will save you time.

Pick your top three solutions and negotiate trials. Use these trials to demo to the key stakeholders and/or the supervisor requesting the project. These trials should be free.

I would guess that if you rushed this process, you could nail it down in about two or three months. I realize that’s a lot longer than one week, but it will ensure you get a system that you’re comfortable with and that you can actually use to address business needs.

I hope this lends insight!

Juliette Denny said...

Being an LMS provider - an online solution, its possible, you just need to to partner with the right provider. With our clients we know they will change their minds, want new things, and thats part of the service we provide. what i would say is, start small and grow into functionality ... most of our clients use a small part of what we do and then grow into adding more functions as the line managers and business as a whole becomes adapted to it.
Overall there is only one thing that will get users to love online learning and thats USABILITY and "Whats in it for me" so for go for something simple, that looks good and the content makes a difference to them...complication = users apathy!
Good Luck

Ron Zamir said...

Spending 2 weeks, 2 months or even 2 years going through a selection process will not change the fact that most of our partners that adopt a new LMS really can't anticipate what they are getting into. We have found that most LMS systems are over designed to a point that ( and I agree with Harold)finding the right way to apply a corporations org process and map your learning paths becomes very difficult and time consuming. It is much easier to lower you sights to the minimum functionality and reporting you need for the LMS. Look for only those features that you need today.. to streamline your training process and supply basic information for your business analytic s ( impact your business ). If you keep it simple their are enough low cost solutions to enable you to pilot a system ( usually one with a SAAS model). So the selection process can be fast if you focus on the minimal features you need and if you are a big enough company you wont even pay much for the pilot. Another route since we know most of the work comes after, not before the selection is to look for a highly customizable system that can grow with your needs and not spend to much time comparing different features of systems you may never use but will sure pay for in your license fee... So maybe one week is to short but in a few weeks you should be able to narrow the field to at least pilot a system. What you will learn from the pilot will be much more valuable then a long selection process

Tony Karrer said...

It would seem there is some kind of spectrum from:

Select almost any initial LMS and figure what you actually want based on your failure.

Spend significant time, do lots of research, test, etc. - and have less issues (but you probably didn't actually know what you wanted until after).

In fairness, this organization has an LMS and doesn't seem to have learned that they need to spend more time to get it right.

V Yonkers said...

Maybe what management is really saying is find an outside vendor who will give us the training, development, and customer service we need when we want to create (and recreate) an LMS. My husband works in a small ITS group where they will find a vendor to design their programs (although it usually takes about a month for this to happen). They look for those vendors that include training for programmers, and good customer service when they have a problem. Rarely does the program meet their functional requirements initially, but after 2-3 months of in house programming, they'll have what they want. They have found this is faster and cheaper than creating their own system from the bottom up or having an all inclusive system designed for them.

Anonymous said...

To those with the "can do" spirit -- good for you! However, I would not be confident in my decision were I given just 7 days. Is this another organization that doesn't value end user training or appreciate what it really takes to implement a training solution?

Paul Angileri said...

I've had to make this decision for my organization in the past. I was given more time than this but not the months you prescribe. I do think it is a very important decision because the selection process has to effectively weed out any hidden future costs that could be particularly painful for the org in question. From my experience no two LMSs are anywhere near alike even if they ape each other's interfaces, and it's not as simple as making a choice between a Camry, an Accord, and a Taurus.

What can speed this process up is how much knolwegde the individual formulating the recommendation has as to the organization's environment, culture, training strategies, etc. Someone with all of this well known has a good head start, and a good internal network never hurts. These things should reduce the time needed to run through the process, but even still I think it would take around three months to cover all the bases. I think that's a decent amount of time between what management wants (now) and what the profession recommends (a planned "then").

Unknown said...

A week is pretty weak (ha). I would agree with Harold where the one of the biggest obstacles to a reasonable time would be the organization itself. However, even if you had just left a company and just completed the entire vendor selection process there, it would still take you more than a week to sell it internally (including IT).

That said, you can come up with a decent list of critical needs in a week along with a list of your key stakeholders to get you on the path to developing prioritized requirements and use case scenarios. It will also be a good start in identifying how you will measure performance and the reporting needs that are required.

The full reality is more likely about 3 months for the decision making process and 3-6 months to implement and go live. That does not assume a ‘big bang’ launch with every single piece of content and full capability but rather a solid first step to gain traction, awareness, and acceptance. Unless you are GE, I would have to say that anything that takes 11 months just to decide has likely to already evolved past your initial use case scenarios and allows too much time for scope creep and overanalyzed minutiae.

Zackery Reichenbach-Carr said...

Nearly Impossible to track down all the options, requirements, add-ons, and flexibility you will need in an LMS in one week.
We recently went through the narrowing down process and were selected for our LMS by a very large Grocery chain and their decision and critique process included two onsite visits and multiple web ex's over the course of about 3 months and they atsrted off with at least 7 to choose from.
I would say a reasonable timeline to get what you will eventually be happy with is probably somehwhere in the 3 month range not the 3 week one.

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Helen Davies said...

How did you get on with your selection?

Ellen said...

I'm with Helen -- curious about how all this has progressed. Care to share a status note on the caller, Tony? Was he able to beg a longer timeframe for a short list than the week he was given?

When association staff members come to me with similar constraints, they hear my advice to push back against the unreasonable time frame.

Questions such as, "Would you like the next LMS to cost less and be more effective than our current system? If so, why would you think spending less time to find a replacement would yield better results?"

Tony Karrer said...

Great question - I'm going to ask.

Tony Karrer said...

This conversation provided some value. Here's the word from the person who initiated this:


Soon after this my supervisor told me he knew this wasn't the ideal situation and really this should be a project for a group of 3-5 and ideally instead of a short time line like we gave you, it should be something that spans months, not a week or two. (He might read your blog.) But he said the big boss wants it now so we just have to make it work and he said just do the best you can.

So I met with 3 of my supervisors and told them about some possibilities I had found. I told them that I was not saying these were the best as I possibly couldn't research all options and especially not to their fullness, but these "appear" to do what we need our LMS . So we had a long meeting and talked about it. They were impressed with the information I had gathered in such a short time. They all clearly favored one of the LMS products I found. They had a lot of questions and some I wasn't able to answer so I am setting up a meeting with one of their representatives to go over the questions we have. They also wanted everyone in our training department to create a login for the LMS product demo and spend at least an hour in it and report back their feedback to me. So that's where we are right now.


My guess is that there's probably a fair bit of warning that will go along with this abbreviated process. Interestingly, the LMS they are focusing on right now is one that I had not heard of before. Wow, there are a lot of these.